The Chicago Blackhawks walked away from Antti Niemi's one-year $2.75 million arbitration ruling this morning and promptly announced they agreed to terms with Marty Turco for what's reported as a one-year deal worth between $1 and $1.5 million. Niemi is now an UFA and is free to deal and sign with any team and any price thrown his way.
In the past two years, I've written School of Block articles called The Turco Transition and The Turco Turnaround. Now it's time for the Turco Takeover. So let's quickly break down the fantasy impact today's movement has on a couple of goalies and their upcoming seasons.
To further expand on this subject and Niemi's future, I'll be answering fantasy questions in the forums all afternoon. I might also go back and add a goalie or two to my feature in Dobber's 2010 Fantasy Guide as August goes along. I spent most of my Sunday afternoon reading the guide and I can say without any hesitation that it is the best guide he has created since I started writing for him in 2007. Make sure to pick up your copy now!
Corey Crawford – Has finally secured that elusive NHL gig. With Cristobal Huet being forced into the minors for salary cap issues, it is no secret that the Blackhawks are ready to see what he's made of. He has the skills, confidence and most importantly the mental toughness to be a great backup in Chicago. He plays a pure Quebec butterfly style (influenced by Huet) with good upper body positioning and the wherewithal to succeed whether he plays 10 games or closer to 30.
Although there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to playing less but against much better competition, he'll be guided by Hawks goalie coach Stephane Waite and mentored by Marty Turco. As such, he'll have no problem establishing a bigger presence in the organization and build up his reputation. If he plays 20-25 games expect 12-15 wins and a strong save percentage. He will notch one or two shutouts and should receive a few chances to string together some starts and wins.
Hannu Toivonen – Is a perfect fit for the starting role in Rockford. With Alec Richards and Joe Palmer fighting for the second spot, Toivonen brings experience, solid skills and great size to the crease. He's still a capable goalie with pretty limited NHL upside, but doesn't have the long-term potential as Crawford, nor has he paid the same dues and displayed the same kind of patience. He's a very serviceable and durable AHL starter and should be a great mentor for either Richards or Palmer.
Marty Turco – Quietly posted a .913 save percentage behind a weak, immature and relatively inexperienced Stars defense. Is becoming more and more maligned by many that believe he's fading or unable to win in the playoffs. If you don't think Turco can still win in the playoffs, go ask Roberto Luongo his thoughts on the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Three shutouts in one series is nothing to brush away in wake of a loss, and it needs to be recognized that Turco does elevate his game in the playoffs.
Turco is a high-skilled goalie, but not very mentally tough. That came on a team that punched more holes on defense as time went along. Like I have proved for over two years, Turco tries to do way too much in the crease and struggles to let the game come to him. He's often found chasing the puck or turning it over. As such, he's extremely volatile in the fantasy realm, as he can play great one night and make many mental mistakes the next. Stars goalie coach Mike Valley really helped him out last season, but that was reflected in just slightly better stats compared to the 2008-09 season. I admit that the Turco Turnaround was not as fantasy-friendly as I had hoped for, but technically and mentally, he was clearly better in 2009-10.
Depending on a few different circumstances that could play out in the 2010-11 season, it's tough to say right now exactly how Turco will perform on the Blackhawks. But knowing what we do about his lack of consistent mental focus, Joel Quenneville's history of managing his goalie tandem and Chicago's lineup, let's look at some different ways things could play out this season.
1. Turco will settle in nicely on a team that has plenty of confidence in a veteran with great experience, skill and puck-moving abilities. Joel Quenneville will change his traditional ways and display more faith in him than he did with Huet, even if there are some similar rough patches. Turco starts around 60 games and plays in a really nice rhythm. He wins around 35 games with a better save percentage than last year, something around .917 with a 2.4 or 2.5 goals-against average and 4-5 shutouts to boot.
2. Turco starts off with plenty of confidence and rattles off some early wins. But Quenneville continues to play his goalie games and after just one or two weak outings, he starts to give Crawford more minutes when they aren't really needed. Crawford performs well, and because of that, Turco starts to show his usual shades of inconsistency. The regular season comes to a close and Crawford has started close to 30 games, while Turco has struggled to maintain his focus in close to 50 starts. Part of this is due to intermittent minutes and part of it is because, like Huet, Turco is a rhythm goalie that thrives on consistent shots. This results in weaker stats for Turco, something like a .905 – .910 save percentage and a 2.6 or 2.70 goals against average.
3. Turco recognizes this is his last opportunity to make a name for himself and extend his career as an NHL starter. All issues with his inconsistent focus are solved and regardless of how many games he plays, he is extremely solid and proves to fans, teammates and the league that he is capable of taking the Blackhawks deep in the playoffs. Similar to seasons past, Turco elevates his game in the first round of the playoffs and, repeat or not, has another solid post-season performance. He played 60 games in the regular season, improved his stats, won 35 games and gets serious consideration for another short-term contract.
Now these are just three of an infinite number of possibilities, but they stretch the spectrum of what Turco is capable of doing on a team that has a strong defense and a coach that, time and time again, has a short leash on his goalies. As such, the most realistic situation I see happening is #2 … I don't see Quenneville changing his tune and I don't see Turco breaking the mold of being a rhythm goalie on a strong defense team that doesn't allow many shots.
It's definitely a tough read, but fantasy managers must recognize Turco's legitimate skill. He's not washed up, his skill is not fading and he's clearly capable of winning in the playoffs. At around $1.5 million for just one year, he's a total steal and since he's on a strong team, he's capable of being a Top-10 fantasy goalie this season. But in my opinion, the most important thing to know about the Turco Takeover heading into your draft is this:
Turco will be very successful this season if Quenneville can find the confidence to start him at least 60 games. But if Turco fails to instill that confidence in Quenneville (and his teammates) for whatever reasons, Crawford will get more starts. And if Crawford plays up to or above expectations, this will severely affect Turco's consistency and fantasy output. Therefore Chicago must be extremely careful in how they manage Turco's minutes because, like Huet, Turco is a rhythm goalie. If Turco can't obtain that rhythm on a consistent basis, the same situation as last season will rear its ugly head and Crawford could very well blossom into a solid NHL goalie and have the same potential and opportunity as that of Niemi.
Remember to visit the School of Block forums to have your Niemi, Turco, Crawford and Toivonen questions answered, or feel free to ask us anything pertaining to goalies for the upcoming fantasy season!